Day Eight: Shitty First Draft

(estimated time: 70-85 minutes)

Today you’re going to write a draft (or at least the start of a draft). But don’t stress! We’re going to keep the pressure and expectations low. You’re not trying to nail your story on the first try. You’re just laying down a shitty first draft, as Anne LaMotte calls it. More on that below.

Prep: Re-typing

Pick a text that you like. Novel, story, poem, essay, academic article—doesn’t matter. It would be best if it’s similar to the stuff you’re trying to write, but it’s your call. Once you’ve picked the text, copy one page (by typing it out or writing by hand, your choice).

There are two purposes for this activity. The first is that you’ll experience the text differently than when you read it. You’ll feel the rhythm of the prose, and you’ll notice more about the techniques behind the writing. But don’t take my word for it; listen to Nicholson Baker:

Copy out things that you really love. Any book. Put the quotation marks around it, put the date that you’re doing the copying out, and then copy it out. You’ll find that you just soak into that prose, and you’ll find that the comma means something, that it’s there for a reason, and that that adjective is there for a reason, because the copying out, the handwriting, the becoming an apprentice—or in a way, a servant—to that passage in the book makes you see things in it that you wouldn’t see if you just moved your eyes over it, or even if you typed it. If your verbal mind isn’t working, then stop trying to make it work by pushing, and instead, open that spiral notebook, find a book that you like, and copy out a couple paragraphs.

Reason #2: You’ll get some writing momentum going, which makes this a nice warm-up. Many writers start their writing session with some easy task, and few tasks are easier than copying a page.


Shitty First Drafts by Anne LaMotte


Look over the ideas and starts that you’ve generated so far in this regimen, from your notes-toward-a-draft to your list of first lines, and choose what you want to work on today. Apply butt to chair for 35-45 minutes. “When you get stuck,” said William Stafford, “lower your standards and keep writing.”


What surprised you—from the reading, or the prep, or your writing?

What was easy about this approach for you? What was hard?

What did you learn about yourself as a writer today?

Put an X through day 8 and note the time you took with this session.